Monday, September 1, 2014

North Fork of John Day River: Days 7 and 8 - Hiking Out

Day 7 - Monday, August 18
Monday morning we rise early and load our packs with mixed feelings.

We are tired (especially Dorothy - sleeping on the ground is always a challenge) and it will be good to be home and in our own beds.
And yet…sigh…it means we are leaving this beautiful place.

But before we head out, it's time for backpacking portraits in the meadow!

We know what to expect for much of our Day 7 hike (Monday). We've been over this trail before.
Once again we see Lydia's cabin, the magnificent salmon, beautiful scenery, waaaay too much underbrush.


This time I count the bear scat: 26 piles in 8 miles. And a few of them are fresh. VERY fresh.

Even though the rangers had assured us a week ago that this area has never had a bear-human encounter where the humans were injured, still, with all that underbrush…  Well, we are sure to sing and talk to the bears every time we hike around a corner or into a brushy spot so we won't surprise a furry fellow.
I know the trail is in here somewhere…

By 1:00 we arrive at Huckleberry Springs. I vote to stay for the night and finish the last 8 miles in the morning. And yet, something seems to nudge all of us toward continuing our hike.

Ugh. I have two -- maybe three -- solid blisters by this time.

I'm not willing to discuss more hiking until I've had a good long rest. Maybe in an hour.

Rest time at Huckleberry Springs! It is so amazing. While we are playing in the water, we discover about 20 huge salmon right there in our swimming hole!! Who needs to swim with the dolphins? We are actually swimming…well wading…with the salmon. Kind of. We get within 15 feet of them before they flick their huge tails and muscle on up the river. "Stupid humans," we can almost hear them muttering through their gills.

 Blister care


After a good rest, play time in the water, dry clothes and dry socks, we heave our packs back on and begin hiking again.

I don't want to be the whiner so I don't say much about my feet, my blisters, my aching legs. At this point it is a matter of will, of the mind commanding the feet, the legs. We stop every hour for a brief rest. I add moleskin to the blisters. We remind each other to drink water, to stay hydrated.

Dorothy says she's sure the campsite is not too far ahead. I want to believe her but I don't want to be disappointed. What options are there? We've hiked this trail before. We know there aren't any camp sites after Huckleberry Springs until we come to Big Creek; we know we have committed ourselves to hike 16 miles from the camp site we left at Granite Meadow.

And then, almost suddenly, we come to familiar landmarks. The Big Creek trail junction. The bridge leading into the Wilderness boundary. The side road that leads to Big Creek camp site!!!

It is an epic day for the four of us 60-year-olds. My pedometer has logged 34,267 steps in one day.
16 miles
Our pack weights range from 35-50 pounds

And even though we are exhausted, even though we should be too tired to do anything when we drop our packs, we get busy -- set up the tents, pump fresh water through the filters, cook our suppers.


We are 60 years old, and we can backpack for 60 miles.

We spend the night next to a sweet little creek (Big Creek).

Day 8: Tuesday, August 19

The next morning, stiff and sore, we inhale a little "vitamin I" (ibuprofen), and head out for the last 4 miles of our adventure.

We are back to hiking on the unimproved road. Easy terrain, plenty of room to stroll next to a companion.

So fun! We see a few more salmon. Were they there on Day 1? Are we better at seeing them now, or are there more salmon in the river, heading upstream to their spawning beds?
Someone mentions that the river definitely seems tamer now. The landscape feels less remote.

And then…right about HERE, we finally see A BEAR!!!

He is across the river from us, and he knows we are here. He turns and heads up the river bank before any of us can grab a camera.

He is so beautiful, so black, with movement so smooth and so obviously belonging to the wilderness.

Every single one of us sees him. He is wonderful, and he is gone.

And then we hike around a corner and see the car in the distance. And some trucks.

After 8 days of solitude, we are surrounded by Forest Service guys, here to work on a project, to put a gate across the road we couldn't have driven anyway.

Post Script:
After about 30 minutes in the car, we are back into cell range. My phone rings. My daughter, Maleena, says my mom is ill and on her way to the hospital.

Now we know why we all felt the urgency to hike 16 miles yesterday. Time to come back to our real-world lives.

Two weeks later, Mom is out of the hospital and better than ever.
Two weeks later, I, too, am better than ever.

One last post…coming summarize our route for future hikers.


Polly @ Pieces by Polly said...

Looks like it was quite the adventure! Sorry it took so long to get caught up.

Julia Taylor said...

So much fun to swim with the salmon. There are rivers in Alaska that have times where you have to be careful not to be pulled under and caught under the salmon, unable to get above them.

I admit when I heard the story from a classmate, that I was a little jealous that I won't be able to try it. Maybe I will get to live a little vicariously through photos of your Alaska salmon swim.:-)

Dale said...

Did a 30 mile horse back ride from the North Fork trail head to Big Creek.

Enjoyed similar experiences.


David Drescher said...

Thanks for posting the story and pictures, the JD is a wonderful river! We plan on floating the whole 290 miles some day soon. From Mt Ruth (Peavey Cabin) to the Columbia.

Dave Drescher